Carl Johnson still struggles to keep his composure when he talks about the impact of Phyllis Webstad-Jack’s Orange Shirt Day story.
“It touches my heart,” he explains, noting he has known Webstad-Jack and her story of the orange shirt for over 20 years and even though she first told it to him many years ago, it is still heart-wrenching.
“A child going to school with new clothing for the very first time and that clothing being stripped off her and being thrown in an incinerator.”
When Webstad-Jack told the story 11 years ago at the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, Johnson said it touched people.
He said despite the impact her story has had, she is still very humble and the first year orange shirts were sold for Orange Shirt Day, only 13 shirts were sold.
However, as the orange shirt story spread, things have grown.
For many years, the company providing shirts for the society donated $2 for every $20 shirt sold.
Johnson also sold the shirts through his store for eight years, and for every shirt he sold, he would donate $5 back to the society.
“Every year, more shirts sold.”
Last year, in September, the company they had been dealing with ran out of shirts at the beginning of September.
Johnson offered to step in and help with ordering the shirts, as he had some connections to the industry through his brother.
He had the support of his brother Bob Johnson, who was in the industry for a number of years and another friend Gordon Halloway, who helped him work out the most practical approach.
There was some risk involved in the ordering of volume, but it all worked out thanks to their guidance.
Johnson made about five orders of 5,000 shirts between May and September, and this helped him raise this year’s impressive sum.
The incredible part is, Johnson does mostly small orders through the store, which is only one of a number of orange shirt suppliers listed on the Orange Shirt Day Society. There was one significant exception, however, as School District 27 ordered shirts for all students and staff this year, helping boost sales, though on the larger orders the margin is smaller.
“There’s bigger people than me doing these shirts,” said Johnson, noting they focus on the orders of one or two shirts at a time for the most part.
He also credits his staff and the local post office for doing the work to make their donation possible.
“They were wonderful with us,” he said of the local Canada Post office workers.
When asked how it felt to be able to hand over a $234,852 cheque to his longtime friend Webstad-Jack for the society, he said simply: “I’m kind of speechless.”